You’re aiming to cook healthy meals, but you’re in need of some healthy side dishes. Before you reach into the cabinet for a convenient box of seasoned pasta or even a rice mix, beware. What you gain in convenience you may lose in nutrition. One serving of Rice-A-Roni, for example, contains nearly half the daily recommended amount of sodium. And cream-sauce pasta dishes can top 25 g of total fat per serving.

Heather Bainbridge, a registered dietitian at the Comprehensive Weight Control Program at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, says it’s almost as quick – and a lot healthier – to make easy side dishes yourself.

Consider these easy side dishes:

•     Add sautéed veggies, a bit of pesto and a small can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes to cooked whole-grain pasta.

•     Toss pasta with store-bought pesto sauce or a bit of olive oil and sundried tomatoes, and top with fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese. Or keep flavors simple with a homemade “sauce” of balsamic vinegar, basil, pepper, lemon and a few sprinkles of cheese.

•     Go for cooked grains instead of pasta. Toss a bag of shredded carrots or broccoli-slaw mix with any cooked grain (in addition to rice or pasta, try barley or couscous, wheat berries or quinoa).

•     Turn your salad into a heartier side dish. Cook barley or wheat berries ahead of time, chill and toss an ample amount into your favorite green salad.

If you do use a ready-made mix:

•     Discard half the packaged seasoning. Try lower-sodium brands (less than 300 milligrams), and mix in your own seasonings, such as Mrs. Dash, garlic or hot pepper flakes.

•     If the directions say to add butter, use olive or canola oil instead. The same goes for milk: Use skim or 1 percent instead of whole.

•     Add a handful of fresh or frozen vegetables a few minutes before the dish is done to get more fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. You’ll fill up faster and save calories by eating less of the pasta or rice in veggie-filled healthy side dishes.